Hear Me Out: The Nuggets Didn’t Totally Bungle the Donovan Mitchell Trade
By now you, the discerning NBA fan, are probably very familiar with Donovan Mitchell. The dude is a star — almost good enough to win Rookie of the Year over someone who is incapable of shooting a basketball into a basketball hoop. (That’s a subject for another time.). You probably also know that Donovan Mitchell wasn’t drafted by the Utah Jazz. He was drafted by my poor Denver Nuggets.
Now I’m going to tell you that the Nuggets didn’t make a catastrophic error in trading him away.
Obviously Donovan Mitchell is an incredible talent who pretty much single-handedly (well, with Carmelo’s help) sent Paul George to the Los Angeles Lakers. But he got drafted by one of the teams that needed him the absolute least.
The Nuggets came into the 2017-18 season with Gary Harris and Will Barton locked in as their starting and backup 2 guard. Harris, while a far less flashy player than Mitchell, has quietly evolved into a perfect second option for the Nuggets, a brilliant complement to Nikola Jokic and defensive stud. Gary Harris will be the Nuggets’ starting 2 guard for years to come. (This is the part where I remind you that the Timberwolves committed literally double the amount of money to Andrew Wiggins that the Nuggets committed to Harris, and Andrew Wiggins might not be one of the 5 best players on his own team. I love basketball!)
Behind Gary Harris, the Nuggets had Will Barton, a brilliant second-unit scorer who will and should place third in Sixth Man of the Year voting this season. Donovan Mitchell wouldn’t have taken many of Thrill Barton’s minutes.
So the Nuggets needed a 2 guard less than almost any other team in the NBA. So then the question becomes — should they have tried to transition Mitchell to point guard?
The answer, obviously, is f***** no. The Nuggets started the year with Jamal Murray, — himself a converted 2-guard — and Emmanuel Mudiay (lol) as their point guards. The last thing that the Nuggets needed was more youth at that position. Besides, it took a good portion of the season to turn 2-guard Jamal into a viable 1, and they were actually never able to turn 1-guard Mudiay into, well, a 1-guard. Good luck with that, New York! (He’s a nice kid. Hope he does well.)
So based on all this, we can conclude that Donovan Mitchell would not have been a good fit in Denver this year. So why draft him?
In instances like this, I think it’s important to look at process rather than results. And the process was simple — regardless of how you feel about Bam Adebayo, OG Anunoby, or Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell was clearly the most talented player still available, and it is never a bad idea to take the most talented player available. Particularly when you can use him to get some assets out of Utah.
And the Nuggets did — they got the #24 pick and Trey Lyles. The #24 pick was a savvy move — the Nuggets were targeting OG Anunoby, and would’ve got him, except that the NBA’s smartest GM was now drafting one spot before him. (God damn it I miss having Masai Ujiri with the Nuggets.).The Nuggets were instead left to draft Tyler Lydon, who seems destined to wear suits on sidelines for 3 years before transitioning into realty. (Yes, they drafted him 3 spots before Kyle Kuzma. F*** you. Your team probably whiffed on Kuzma too.)
But not enough is made out of acquiring Trey Lyles. Yes, he washed out of Utah, but the dude was only 21 when the Nuggets got him, and he actually turned out to be a really promising pickup. He earned some good minutes and generally posted a positive plus-minus, showing three-point range, and a few stellar defensive plays. If you take the view that Lyles is the Nuggets’ 2017-18 rookie and Lydon is a tall ballboy, well, the Nuggets came out of the draft with a better rookie than a whole bunch of teams that came before them. (Not naming names, but… Phoenix. I’m naming Phoenix.)
So yes, it sucks to watch Mitchell’s Jazz rampage into the second round while the Nuggets’ Facebook page posts a bunch of unintentionally depressing slideshows. But based on all this, GM Tim Connelly didn’t really bungle things too badly. Not really.
Next time, I’ll tell you why it was a good decision for the Nuggets to trade Rudy Gobert to the Jazz for a second round pick and cash considerations.